First Who precedes Then What. At least thatís the way Jim Collins framed it in Good to Great. The Who in this case is not a rock band but the leadership team and staff you have assembled to lead the organization as it seeks to fulfill its mission. Last month we challenged you to think about the people in your organization and consider that having the right people in the right places at the right times is essential for success and sustainability. Click here to read First Who. Once you have the who settled, you then focus on the what.
Then What gets to the core of why your organization exists. What is it that you do?:
What is the change you seek to make?
What is the wrong you seek to right?
What is the void you seek to fill?
What is the hope you create?
In other words, what is the vision for your organization. What is the driving purpose that stirs the passion motivating you to invest unbelievable personal hours, energy, and resources. More important, is your what clear and distinct from the whats of other organizations in your community? And most important, are you communicating the what in a clear and concise way so that others are compelled to help you accomplish your mission?
As a whole, nonprofit leaders are a unique group of people. People who have chosen to earn less than they could in other sectors and in many cases work longer or harder than they might in other jobs. Founders of organizations are even more unique.
Through our work, I am privileged to meet many founders and I love hearing their stories. I am awed by the passion that motivates them to invest blood, sweat, tears, and often their life savings into the startup of a new nonprofit or social enterprise. Yet there are times when I encounter multiple people from a single city in the same conference or workshop who think they are the only organization doing what they do. How do I know this? It usually comes up in the conversation.
It makes me wonder what funders or donors think when they receive multiple proposals for similar projects from organizations that claim they are unique and the only ones doing this work. Its like showing up at a key social event thinking your outfit is one-of-a-kind (well thatís what the salesperson said) and running into someone else with the exact same outfit. Funders have the same reaction when they encounter groups claiming to be unique, but instead seem to be a carbon copy of another group.
Questions to consider:
- How many other organizations in your community are tackling the same issue as you?
- If there are several, how is your organization unique?
- What is it that is so different about your organization or approach to the issue(s) that justifies your continued existence and motivates donors and funders to support your work over another?
- Would the community or cause be better served by joining forces and working together than working alone?
- What organizations are working on issues that complement your work?
- How can you partner with them for greater impact and outcomes?
Itís not enough to just be unique, it must set your organization apart from others. Jim Collins called this the Hedgehog Concept, we call it the Unique Serving Proposition. Think of it as three circles.
One circle is the passion and purpose of the organization.
What is it that your organization is most passionate about?
The second circle addresses the performance of your organization.
What is it that your organization does best? Better than any other organization in the community?
The third circle addresses sustainable funding. What programs or services can you fund by grants, donations, contracts, fee-for-services, or other funding model?
Where these three circles intersect is your Unique Serving Proposition. Itís the intersection of what you are purposed, gifted, and funded to do. If you find your USP, stick with it and be disciplined enough to say no to those opportunities that take you off focus.
Once you have identified what it is that makes your organization unique and what you do better than anyone else, then your challenge is to develop and fine-tune your message so that you communicate your what in clear, concise, and compelling ways. Ways that inspire people and draw them into a relationship with you that results in support of the organization with their time, talent, and treasure.
Invest the time to develop a strategic message, communication tools and resources that equip board, staff, and volunteers to represent your organization with dynamic impact.
Ideally, you want to be able to introduce your organization in 3 or 4 short sentences that can be shared in 15 - 20 seconds and leave people wanting to learn more.
The next time you are in a group setting and people are introducing themselves and their organizations, pay close attention to people in the room and see how group members react to the introductions of others. Listen for the people that are passionate and articulate with clear and concise messages. People usually respond very positively to those individuals. Compare the response they get with others who drone on endlessly with no clear message and no advanced planning of what to say. You may see people zoning out, getting anxious, or even rolling their eyes; thatís not the response you want.
People that speak with passion and on purpose - carefully choosing their words for impact - connect with the audience and draw people in to learn more.
Being clear about who you are and what you are seeking to accomplish, as well as knowing who you arenít and saying no to those things outside your purpose, are definite X Factors for sustainability. Having that clarity and being able to share it concisely and with conviction helps your organization rise above others that are floundering to know who they are and what they do. This clarity and determined commitment works to your advantage as it frequently draws funders to the organization.
If you lack clarity and purpose, donít be discouraged, just be determined to set time aside with the board and other key leaders to work through it and figure out exactly what your what is. Remember First Who, Then What...to be continued next month.